, Volume 6, Issue 1, pp 71–87 | Cite as

Geotourism and Geoparks—A Tool for Geoconservation and Rural Development in Vulnerable Environments: A Case Study from Iceland

  • Rannveig Ólafsdóttir
  • Ross Dowling
Original Article


Iceland has a unique geology and a dynamic natural landscape which has long attracted a large number of tourists to the island. Owing to the dynamic geological processes which are still shaping the Icelandic landscape, combined with the country's raw nature, Iceland is often referred to as an open laboratory in geosciences. Geotourism and geoparks are relatively new concepts within tourism. However, both have grown rapidly over the past decade. Geotourism has evolved partially in response to the need to minimize the negative impacts of mass tourism in geologically and geographically situated tourist environments, whilst at the same time providing a catalyst for sustainable rural development. This paper attempts to assess the compatibility of geoconservation and rural development within geotourism by exploring the challenges and potential outcomes of the geotourism development in Iceland; by identifying and analysing the various potential outcomes of geopark development; and by proposing a strategic planning approach for sustainable geotourism planning and management in vulnerable environments. The results indicate nine distinctive sites for geopark development, each of which presents the major challenge of using geological heritage as a basis for informing the area's ‘ABC’ components such that both visitors and locals are given a holistic appreciation of the area based on an understanding of its geology. The results further emphasize the importance of sustainable management in geotourism development. Only when managed in a sustainable manner is geotourism likely to provide long-term improvements for developments in rural areas.


Geotourism Geoparks Geoconservation Rural development Sustainable tourism Iceland 



We are very grateful to the University of Iceland and the South Iceland University Centre for their financial contribution to the geotourism course in August 2011. We would like to acknowledge Sigurður Sigursveinsson and Hrafnkell Guðnason for their help in organizing the field course. We would also like to thank our students Anna Jónsdóttir, Erla Dóra Vogler, Ingunn Hjaltalín Ingólfsdóttir, Kolbrún Reynisdóttir, Lilja Bjargey Pétursdóttir and Ragnhildur Sveinbjarndardóttir for their contribution to this work. Special thanks are further given to Dr. Gísli Már Gíslason as well as to our anonymous reviewers for valuable comments and suggestions which have led to significant improvements to this paper. Additional thanks are given to Dr. Hugh Atkinson for language correction.


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Copyright information

© The European Association for Conservation of the Geological Heritage 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Geography and Tourism, The Faculty of Life and Environmental SciencesUniversity of IcelandReykjavíkIceland
  2. 2.School of Business & Centre for Innovative PracticeEdith Cowan UniversityPerthAustralia

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